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Day In The Life, Law, Legal profession

Why we close early on Christmas Eve

Author: Christopher Green

The practice of law has never been a nine to five  occupation- deadline driven, once a task is undertaken, whether  a real estate closing or a jury trial, you have no choice but to log the hours necessary to complete the task. It is a solemn promise made to each client at the commencement of a file.

Those needed hours can only come from one source – they are stolen from our families. People don’t think of law as a ‘giving’ profession- but it is- we give intense and highly focused attention to our clients affairs, give huge effort to bringing their matters to a successful conclusion, and we give hours and hours of our time to complete the task. And what we give to our clients,be it attention, effort, or time, we take from our loved ones.

Christmas Eve is one time where even the most driven of practitioners  can honestly say, there is nothing more that can be done today for my clients – the  court registry is shut, the last couriers  have been dispatched, and opposing counsel have unplugged their phones and switched off their fax machines- there is no one left to  joust with – its time to go home.

That is a lesson I learned in my first year as a lawyer,  scant months after hanging out my own shingle. Believing that the key to success was hard work, and that the firm owner should always be the first one in the office in the morning, and the last to leave at night, I had sent my small staff home at noon on Christmas eve, but was determined to keep the office open myself until five- what if the case of the century arrived at my door, and I had been too lazy to keep that damned door open?

The building grew quiet and dark, and chilly too, as the steam boilers had been banked for the holiday closure. I sat alone in the office, half-heartedly pushing paper- in truth the practice was too young to have developed a back-log of work, and there was nothing on my desk that required urgent attention, but success demands perseverance, I told myself. Then, in the late afternoon, as the last light ebbed from the wintry sky, came a knock on the door.

I hurried to answer, gleeful that my stubbornness had been rewarded- a client was at hand – hopefully a big one!

The open door revealed a man of late middle age, and small stature, rather formally, but shabbily dressed in an old tweed suit. With him was a Jack Russell terrier.

“May I have a consultation ?” he asked, his speech carrying a middle European accent I couldn’t quite place – Hungarian? – Polish?

“Of course!” I replied, trying to hide my eagerness, and ushered him into my office. Since he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to begin, I offered him coffee, and a plate of Christmas baking from the lunch room. He accepted the cookies, but immediately fed them to his dog, taking none for himself. We chatted for a time – (clients often do, just to break the ice and get comfortable in an intimidating environment ) but when he didn’t ultimately come to the point I prompted him-  “So, and how can I help?”

His reply was oblique, a rambling discourse about the town, and its civic politics and his suspicions about his neighbours. – So, was his issue a dispute with his neighbours then, I inquired (my hopes of the case of the century ebbing quickly) “No, not exactly’ he replied, as his monologue continued its meandering progress. I let him dissemble for another couple of minutes before intervening .

“Look, you must have some reason for being here- what is it?

He took a long time to answer, then in a small voice replied  “well sir, in truth, I am lonely -desperately lonely,  there is only me and Max my dog- and yours was the only storefront still lit – I have no legal problem, but I do need company. Here, let me show you the tricks I have taught  Max.

With that, the dog suddenly leapt onto my desk,rose on his back legs, and began to dance. I was then treated to the dog’s full repertoire-  pirouettes, back flips, roll overs and paw shakes- each trick rewarded with a treat from the staff’s Christmas baking, until the platter was empty, the dog lay panting on my desk, and my almost client sat smiling broadly.

“Well I must go now-you must have family to get home to, and I am feeling much better – Merry Christmas – and, thank you-” and with that, he left , Max prancing proudly by his heels.

Momentarily happy that I had made a difference, and cheered  a lonely soul on Christmas eve, I quickly came to reflect that really, I had accomplished nothing of a legal nature – no  advice had been given or legal problems solved, no disputes settled – the performance of a performing dog was scarcely reason to keep the office open- there were better uses of my time, and people close to me who needed me more..

I turned off the lights- early, -locked the door, and hurried home to a warm hearth, a house decorated for the holidays, and a very patient wife.

The time we spend on our career is time we steal from those we love – and that is why we always close early on Christmas Eve.